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How do family doctors differ from specialists?

There is much overlap in the field of family medicine with other specialties. Family doctors are sometimes said to care for patients from "womb to tomb," meaning health issues and preventive care from prenatal and obstetrics through end-of-life care. Family doctors often manage many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and COPD. Family doctors also perform some small invasive procedures and operations. The scope of practice for each practitioner may depend on location, need for services, type of business and personal choice. Family medicine doctors are sometimes referred to as the gatekeepers of medicine, as they can refer patients to specialists when necessary.
Family physicians may do some of the same tests and procedures that specialists do but usually not all. Family medicine is a medical specialty that encompasses all parts of the body, emphasizing health promotion, diagnosis and disease prevention.
In some cases, the jobs that family physicians and other specialists do may overlap. For example, family physicians may do pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, just as gynecologists do. They may also do simple skin biopsies as dermatologists might, or inject medicine into a joint, as an orthopedic surgeon sometimes does.
For treatment of more complicated problems of a specific body part, a family physician may refer a patient to a specialist but still remain in contact with the specialist. The two types of doctors can work together to make sure a patient receives the best care possible. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.